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Tree of remembrance is also a tree of hope

Someone once said that one of the most troubling thoughts for a dying person is the fear of being forgotten, the need to be remembered. My daughter Jennifer never shared this sentiment with me but I have this desire in my heart for people to remember Jennifer for her beautiful nature, her kindness, her gentle and peaceful soul. She was the most Christ-like person I have yet to know.

The spring after her death I organized a reunion of sorts of all our family and friends who had shared wonderful times with Jennifer while camping and picnicking at Lake Erie State Park. My two sons volunteered their day planting sapling trees in the park and in return they received permission to plant a single tree in Jennifer’s memory. We all shared in the tree’s planting, throwing handfuls of white sand, to represent her purity, into the dark soil. It could not bear any plaque with her name on it, just the tree, specifically placed near a bluff overlooking our magnificent Lake Erie and near the gazebo. I was certain that this tree, grown by seed by a relative, would stand out in some way from all the rest and become a permanent reminder of Jennifer’s 35 years here on Earth. Never could I imagine how this tree would bring about the following encounters.

I make several visits a year to edge the base of the tree, mulch it and water it. Last fall while planting some bulbs for spring’s show, a middle-aged woman walked by with her dog. Being on my knees with dirtied hands I felt an explanation was in order. I shouted out to her that the tree was planted in my daughter’s memory and that I try to make it look special by planting flowers and keeping it groomed. Within minutes of our exchange, she shared with me that she too had suffered the loss of her 28-year-old son the same year Jennifer had left us. I told her I would share the tree with her son Ryan and it would now be both Ryan’s and Jennifer’s tree.

Two complete strangers hugged, cried, sharing tears that never seem to leave us grieving moms. She frequents the park regularly to walk her dog, to enjoy the views and now to remember.

We ventured back to Jennifer’s tree last week to check on the flowers the bulbs had produced and I was pleased to see their beauty. The following day my oldest son met an older couple who live in Dunkirk. He shared with them his fond memories and love for Lake Eerie State Park and began to mention the fact that near the gazebo, when the woman interrupted him and said, “the tree?” Turns out the couple walk the park daily and know of the tree. Of course they were unaware of its particular significance until meeting my son.

They told my son that they have watched the tree grow for the past five years and have always stopped and said a prayer for whoever it was planted for. They now have the story, and a reason for their prayer … to remember Jennifer.

There’s a wedding in the near future. No official date or announcement as of yet, but the location of the ceremony has already been decided. Jennifer’s brother and his bride will say their vows on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, near the gazebo, beside his sister’s tree.

Giving us all another reason to continue to remember Jennifer.